29 April 2006

Externship success!

I got the externship! That is, my school'll pay me to work with my astronomer friend to make an educational and outreach webpage. In return I have to write them a paper due August 12 that'll explain how it helps my students. Most likely my friend and I won't have a finished webpage by the end, but an outline of what we want in one, and a proposal for either NASA or the NSF to fund us further. I worry that if we don't have some finished product that my school won't want to pay me, but it's something I'd work on even if they didn't want to fund me, so it's no biggie. The extra money would be nice though.

When Nemo's mom died,

his dad should've changed sex to become the dominant female, and Nemo should've become his spouse. I'd like to see the Disney exec's response to that one.

I really like using popular works to illustrate real science. Too bad I'm not a biology teacher. :)

25 April 2006

Summer Schedule!

I've got a busy but fun summer ahead of me. Some of it's actually science related, too.

  1. I'm taking a 6-week graduate education course in geology. It's partially because I keep teaching courses related to it, and I've never actually had a course on it myself (though planetary astronomy's close, right?). And partially b/c another couple graduate credits gets me a pay raise. Moreover, it's an online course, which I'm really curious about, so I get to learn first-hand, and I know the profs so I expect I'll enjoy it. Win-win-win situation all around!

  2. Once or twice a week I'm going to get together with jethereal to read Feynman's lectures. Between us we've got four Master's degrees and three undergraduate majors all related to physics, and yet we still fully expect them to kick our butts. It'll be awesome!

  3. I'll be spending a couple weeks teaching observational astronomy to high school and junior high students at my Alma Mater's Astrocamp. We have each batch of 16 kids for 4 days, I think there's usually 4-ish of us instructors, I haven't done it in a couple years. Kids wake late, brunch, we have afternoon lectures and activities, they have dinner and socialize after dinner, and then the fun starts. From 8pm until midnight we have four students per domed telescope and the students themselves run the telescopes, learning to operate them from star-hopping to using RA and Dec and taking CCD images. I can't wait to see the CCD systems, when I was last there only one telescope had them.

  4. And throughout the summer I'll be working with a friend of mine in research astronomy on an educational outreach webpage - he's got the research expertise, I know the education, and we'll cobble together some web experience between the two of us. Unless, that is, any of you loyal readers are graphic designers / web programmers and would be interested in becoming part of the team. We are ambitious about this, or at least I am. I want something like HubbleSite or the SDSS page at the end. I fully admit that we don't have the skills to do this. :( If you think you do, drop a line in the comments with a link to your portfolio. There is NO compensation involved; this is a pro bono project unless you can find someone to fund you - my friend's doing it as part of his own work, I'm trying to get a grant for me only thru my job and will do it even if not, and we have no grants to pay others. After this summer's work is done, we may apply for actual funding, but not until then.

And speaking of that last project, I've been pondering "coming out" with this blog, that is revealing who I am. Currently I'm not ready to do that (I'd have to scour my archives!), but one thought I had was once we complete a presentable webpage I could reveal myself through launching that page and linking it. It's a scary thought; I like the idea of legitimizing blogging, but its illegitimacy makes me worry that putting my name on it will look badly to peers/employers.

Sexy Science!

Just wanted to give y'all a head's up on a blog I was tipped off to: Sexy Science. I haven't read thru all of the archives yet, but it appears the blogger is a college student, I think a woman, who's trying to show that scientists are NOT all old dorky white men with bad hair, big glasses, and lab coats. The blog has profiles of scientists: their research, career, and photos! If I weren't trying for anonymity still, I'd possibly go and submit myself. ;)

23 April 2006

Skeptical Psychics?

The Mystic Seaport (CT) has a ship that's supposedly haunted. Three separate groups of tourists, from different states, and with no contact with each other, recently reported sighting the same man in period clothing belowdecks. This came after a previous 40 reports of "unusual events." Thankfully, the museum didn't themselves decide to call in the RI paranormal "experts" to investigate, but they did allow the group to set up shop for an evening and determine what they could find out.

The Rhode Island Paranormal Research group are definitely "believers" in ghosts and such, but on the bright side, they admit right out that 90% of the "events" they investigate turn out to be natural causes or hoaxes. I wonder how confident they are of the other 10%, or more details of what they say causes the other 10% and how they measured it. They claim they're coming back to Mystic Seaport with "more equipment"...

I may not believe that remaining 10%, but I respect that they admit the 90%. It's better than most ghost groupies.

Worm bin question

To anyone else with a worm bin, I've a question. I went to harvest some soil from it (I was repotting plants), and I noticed the soil was very gray, and not the rich brown I was expecting and had seen in the past. What causes this, and is it still good to use? My best guess is that I've been low on the "green" content lately (as in fresh veggies), and high on the paper pulp. There were LOTS of worms, at least one in every spoonful, so it's not a shortage of digestion.


Order of Magnitude: New Orleans trash

An interesting but sad order of magnitude calculation can be done for how much trash there was to clean up from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I actually gave my students a photocopy of the linked article in the Fall after we did our first order of magnitude calculation. Count up all the household goods - because electronics don't work and everything else is moldy - all the appliances, all the cars, everything, and you get 22 million tons of waste from New Orleans. They're still cleaning it up. And the environmental impact of all the gasoline going into the water? Who knows how long that'll take to clean up, if they do.

17 April 2006

Robots can't do it, but NASA won't say so.

Apparently a NASA mission last year called DART (Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology) was supposed to test robotic docking of two spaceships. Huh, I hadn't ever heard of it. Which is seemingly all to the good as far as NASA is concerned: "the full 70-page document contains details protected by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, space agency spokesman Michael Braukus said." [CNN/AP] About all they've released is that it was a fuel problem but NOT a fuel leak. Not that informative. Hm.

Meanwhile, this does not bode well for robotic repair or even deorbiting of the HST.

Avian Flu Resources

Originally found from a CNN/AP article that no longer exists - um, here's the Wired/AP article - it's the Flu Wiki! If you've used Wikipedia before, it's like that but focused on the flu. They've even got it in Spanish and Portuguese. But in case you want something a little more official and not edited by random 15-year-old boys on the internet, the US Dept of Health and Human Services has their own page, PandemicFlu.gov.

15 April 2006

"Highly Qualified"

I didn't realize that all it takes to be a "highly qualified" teacher according to NCLB is a Bachelor's degree, a piece of paper, and "proven competency." I thought it required the Master's degree. Man, I'm *more* than highly qualified in physics. Apparently the ones they're worrying about are Math and a few others - that would explain why when I was job hunting a couple years ago the Math ones had more exacting requirements.

Alaska's the worst - partially because they're all one-room school houses and the poor teachers teach multiple subjects. Article ends with an amusing "don't despair" note: they get a single extra year to become highly qualified in all of their subjects!

13 April 2006


If you've noticed that I'm not posting as much recently as in the past, you're right. My explanation (not excuse) is that I've been remarkably busy recently ... this semester ... the whole year! This is my second year as a full-time teacher, and as overwhelming as last year was, I expected it. And this year I expected it to get better, but it didn't - I had only two out of ten of the same classes as last year (one of five each semester).

The purpose of this site for me is to have thought-provoking discussion of science topics, and insightful explanations of topics readers may not know about, so I'd rather have fewer posts than crappy ones - also why I've never set myself any update schedule. I update when I'm inspired enough to write something worth posting. I have around a third as many uncompleted drafts as ones that've actually gone up. I'm going to try and work on some of those to get something worthwhile up - better late than never or crappy. You can probably expect my updates to go up when school lets out, mid-May.

Sometime soon I'll probably give a summary of the fun science stuff I'm doing this summer. But if you just can't get enough of the zandperl fix, you could always go a-huntin' for my LJ - it won't be hard to find. It's a personal blog rather than science stuff though, so if you like this one you may not find it interesting. And don't worry, I lock anything I don't want people I don't know FTF to know about, including personally identifiable information. Maybe someday I'll come out with that info here, but not till I've got tenure! *grin*

09 April 2006

Avian Flu

Cox and Forkum is a mostly conservative poltical cartoon that I read frequently. They are good representatives for Conservatives, in that they do not accept the party line blindly, and often even express disagreement with what the White House has to say.

Resistant bacteria and antibiotic chicken feed

If you have a spare moment, please sign this virtual petition started by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The purpose of the petition is to convince Pilgrim's Pride to join other poultry producers in reducing their use of antibacterial chicken feed.

Many chicken farms routinely put antibiotics into chicken feed, whether or not the chickens are sick, as a preventative measure. The problem is that using the antibiotics kills most of the target bacteria in the chicken, but some hardy ones survive. These are the ones that then reproduce, creating antibiotic resistant strains ("superbugs"). This is the same process that creates superbugs in hospitals, such as MRSA. Which I am a lucky host of, as part of my skin disease hidradenitis suppurativa (though the auto-immune component appears to be more important).

So yeah, sign the petition.


"Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science" now rejected

Oops, wrote this a while ago and forgot to post it! :-P

The Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science has decided to reject controvertial paper "Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science" (Peter Lawrence) after saying he'd accept it. [original post] The paper says that men and women *do* have inherrant differences, but that they should be viewed as strengths and utilized as such. The EiC says that's all very well and good, but the article doesn't propose anything unique enough, or constructive enough, to warrant it a place in its illustrious pages. Lawrence thinks they're confusing him with Lawrence Summers. The Telegraph points out that

Science is reeling from having published two papers that contained the most notorious fraud of recent years, Prof Hwang Woo-Suk's human embryonic stem cell research.


and perhaps this fraud is making the general public more skeptical of science, so scientific journals need to do everything they can to retain public opinion and credibility.

08 April 2006


In humans, we have two sexes, and they're comparatively simple: XX, and XY. Everybody gets an X chromosome from their mother, and either an X or Y from their father. The Y is dominant, so that if you get a Y you're male. Turns out this isn't what all animals are like.

Birds are WW and WZ: males are WW and everyone gets a W from them. Females are WZ and chicks get either a W or Z from them, with the Z beind dominant and turning the chick into a female. [1]

Platypus are even more complex, bearing not only the X's and Y's of mammals, but an abundance of them, AND the Z from birds. From what I can tell, there's different flavors of the X's and Y's too, something like XxXxXYyYyZ, with a total of 10 sex chromosomes, rather than our two. [2]

Some fish have yet a third system with X, Y, and Z: a Z makes you female; if no Z, a Y makes you male; if neither (XX) you're female. An XX & YY mating produces only males; ZZ's can't happen; XX & XZ yields only females. [1]

But of course, no matter the wonders of the universe, and the complexities of biology, someone says it's yet another sign of ID. Sad, really. Apparently IDers don't understand the concept of convergent evolution: "If sex evolved, then it had to evolve many different times in many different ways."
[3] Exactly! They also fall into the typical trap (and ID fallacy) of assuming that "no explanation yet" means "no explanation ever" - they quote another author as saying "Biologists have been spinning theories about just what that advantage might be for quite some time, but so far there is no single clear answer," and claim this is biologists admitting that evolution is impossible. [3] *Tsk* These people need to learn a bit of logic.

07 April 2006


A nice little logic puzzle. A good "answer" is in the comments, so don't read them if you don't want spoilers.

Sad and mean spirited

Today while doing a google search on "zandperl modern science", I came across a confession post. An extreme right-wing fanatacist, "Dr. Life" at "Abort-This.blogspot", that I'd followed intermittantly for a while turned out to be a hoax.

Mean-spirited, hate-mongering, divisive, selfish, and in the end just sad. He even faked a wife dying of cancer.

I always say: assume everyone on the internet is a 15-year-old boy. Unfortunately, it's not far from the truth.

06 April 2006

Math makes me cry

Not because I can't do it, but because others can't.

To get a 5 percent solution from 80-proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol, add one part liquor to seven parts water.


That needed to be explicitly stated? Sad.

05 April 2006

Prayer hurts

I found a post on the Martian Anthropologist's blog that a study of 1800 ill people who had other people pray for them found that statistically, those who knew they were prayed for had a slight worsening of their condition. I'm trying to get original links from MA so I can see more about how many people were in each category, and whether it was statisically significant.

ETA: There were links, that I missed the first time (or else he added after). And there's a followup post as well. I'll take a look at them sometime.

Intarwebs Arguments

For the next time you get in an argument on the internet and they use stupid comebacks...

Internet Bingo